A few months back, I was meeting with a client who was preparing himself for an impending hostile takeover bid of his company. He was unsurprisingly stressed, and kept asking me for reassurance that things would turn out his way, citing reports from his lawyers, colleagues, and even a psychic friend that pointed to his imminent success.
I declined to offer any reassurance, not because I don’t think things will work out in his favor but simply because if your sense of well-being is dependent on a particular outcome, it’s resting on very fragile foundations indeed. What I suggested to him instead was that we explore the possibility that he could be absolutely at peace regardless of the outcome, and that unconditional peace of mind was the best possible platform for victory in battle, success in business, winning at games, and having a rich and meaningful experience of life.
Like the mythical Lakota war cry “Today is a good day to die”, when we enter into the arena without any undue attachment or aversion to how things might play out, we are free to be present to the flow of the game, responsive to our in the moment wisdom, and deeply present to the responses of others. This freedom of mind tilts the odds in our favor. Instead of approaching things as the pawn of our ever-changing insecure thoughts, we travel around the board like the Queen in a game of chess – able to move in any direction as far as the current layout of the board will allow.
What I wanted my client to realize was simply this:
Peace of mind doesn’t guarantee victory – it just ensures that you’ll be one of the most powerful players in the game.
Here’s how I write about it in The Space Within:
In order to better understand what this profound sense of peace really is and where it comes from, let’s take a look at four different things that people tend to mean when they use the phrase ‘peace of mind.’
1. The absence of conflict
‘As long as no one’s upset with me, I will have peace of mind.’
At a very basic level, peace of mind looks like the absence of conflict. So if we want to experience more of it, we need to either get better at conflict management or simply avoid conflict altogether.
People who equate peace of mind with an absence of conflict often think of themselves as ‘peacemakers,’ but as often as not they’re really just ‘avoiders of conflict.’ (Think Neville Chamberlain before World War II or a long-suffering spouse who puts up with all sorts of abusive behavior from their partner in hopes of a quiet life.)
Not only does this overly conciliatory head-in-the-sand attitude tend to create more conflict than it avoids, it also keeps our head filled with boatloads of thought about what we mustn’t do or say, which in turn eliminates any chance we might have of actually experiencing peace of mind in the first place.
Which is why at some point most people start to realize that absence of conflict is less important than…
2. The constancy of circumstance
‘As long as my job/marriage/health/finances are secure, I will have peace of mind.’
While people who equate peace of mind with absence of conflict move away from what they don’t want, people who equate it with ‘constancy of circumstance’ move toward creating and maintaining the life circumstances they think they need in order to feel relaxed and content.
Though they may think of themselves as ‘go-getters’ or ‘high-achievers,’ people chasing constancy of circumstance might more accurately be called ‘plate-spinners’ or even ‘rat-racers.’ (Think Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman, or any ‘supermom’ who tries to bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan and make sure her children have high test scores and early entrance into top universities while never letting her husband forget he’s a man.)
Not only is it virtually impossible to sustain peace of mind in every area of our life when we’re chasing it from the outside in, but the stress of needing circumstances to conform to our will in a world where life seems to have a mind of its own often takes us further away from peace of mind than we were when we started.
Which is why at some point it’s quite common for people to begin to realize that constancy of circumstance is less important than…
3. The absence of Thought
‘As long as I don’t have too much thinking going on, I’ll have peace of mind.’
When people make the shift from trying to create peace of mind through external strategies to creating it through quieting thought, life starts to get easier. Because as long as we don’t have too much on our mind, we can handle conflict and changes in circumstance much better than your average bear.
People who seek peace of mind by banishing thought are the meditators of the world, and as long as they sustain their practice they tend to live healthier, longer, more creative lives than non-meditators. (Rupert Murdoch, David Lynch, and Oprah Winfrey are some modern-day examples of high-achievers who make time for daily meditation.)
But absence of thought can also lead to dullness of wits, and the difficulty for many people of maintaining their peace of mind in the 23 hours a day when they’re not meditating can turn the practice into a chore.
The people who continue to meditate as a ‘love to’ rather than a ‘should’ are often those who’ve experienced…
4. The peace of Mind
‘Peace is the nature of Mind.’
Mind is the formless energy and intelligence behind life – the life-force that animates our world. It is everywhere and ever-present, and it brings with it a feeling of being alive and a knowing that regardless of what’s going on in our head or in our world, all is well.
People who recognize that the peace of Mind surrounds them find themselves dropping into states of meditation, gratitude, and love wherever they are and whatever is happening around them. (Think Jesus, or the Buddha, or modern mystics like Syd Banks, the Dalai Lama, Byron Katie, and Eckhart Tolle.)
When we see that we live in a mind-made world and that we ourselves are of that same formless energy, the idea of having to do anything to experience peace of Mind is as bizarre as the idea that a fish would have to do something to experience water. When you start to notice that the peace of Mind is always present, it begins to fill your consciousness more and more of the time.
Quite simply, the peace of Mind is your true nature. You can never lose it, because it’s the very core of your being. As St. Francis of Assisi is reported to have said, ‘You are that which you are seeking.’
And the best thing about experiencing the peace of Mind is that it’s always available, regardless of who’s mad at you, what they’re mad about, and what you happen to be thinking about it at the time.
The future of my client’s business is still in flux, so I don’t have a dramatic case study with which to attempt to prove my point. But in this case, a “happy ending” would only blur the distinction. As the legendary basketball coach John Wooden was fond of saying, “The team with the best players usually wins.”
What unconditional peace of mind offers us is the freedom to be at our best regardless of how positive or negative we happen to be feeling about our chances in any given moment. We can compete like a champion whether the odds are against us or ever in our favor. We can hold our head high whether we win or lose, at peace in ourselves, confident in our own resilience, and recognizing that when it comes to the game of life, playing full out and fearless is its own reward.
With all my love,